Welcome to the Rice Cooker!

The Rice Cooker is the Journalism and Media Studies Centre‘s new research blog. Every story ever told and re-told has had a media to carry it, whether it be the waves, paper or something else. The Internet, notably through the Web, has brought forth a revolution in the world of communications. It is an understatement to say that those billions of computers or devices, connected together with fiber optics, copper wires or mobile networks, have changed our perception of information.

What’s the Rice Cooker then? It is a blog that talks about computer-assisted reporting, database journalism or computational journalism, whatchamacallit. It is also a blog where we will post about ongoing tech-oriented projects at the JMSC, and provide how-tos in the hope that you can to reproduce our methods or help us improve them. We would like it to abide to the spirit of DIY and open collaboration.

At the JMSC, we’re interested in studying the effects of technology on society, but also in presenting and trying out the novel uses and remixes of technology. We are observers, participants and experimenters.

Of course, those are nice concepts, and like always, the blog will be what it will turn out to be as we contribute more material to it. We hope that you will stumble upon this website in droves, looking perhaps for a method to process your newly-acquired piece of data or maybe for your next place to do study technology in the context of media and journalism in the Greater China region.

The name of this blog was inspired by the publication of Where There Are Asians, There Are Rice Cookers, by HKU colleague Yoshiko Nakano, in the same month that this blog was imagined. While our blog has nothing to do with the cooking of rice or the marketing of Japanese electric appliances through Hong Kong, we thought that “The Rice Cooker” evoked Asia (we are based in Hong Kong) and the Chinese term for “rice cooker”, 電飯煲, contained the character for electricity (電), a component of the term computer, 電腦. Basically, no one on the Web (according to Google) thought of this name before for a techie blog.

Experimentations with libkml

As my first geographic database went, so did the scripts that I wrote to fish out the data.

When I started playing with GIS, I initially used a simple MySQL database without support for geographic extension. In fact, I went on to store my points as flat text — needless to say that the data (at least the geographic part of it) was not very useful after the project was finished.

Similarly, the scripts that I used to mash both the geographic data (electoral districts of Canada) and functional data (electoral results) in order to generate KML files were simply written in custom PHP, using the functions for manipulating XML (because KML is a XML-based language).

This was before I discovered libkml.

libkml is library for creating and parsing KML contents. It was first introduced in March 2008 by Google, as a open-source library for reading, writing and manipulating KML. It is written in C++, but thanks to SWIG, you can use libkml in Java and Python.

Map of all media bodies (tv, periodicals, newspapers) in China

I use libkml in Python, but so far only for generating KML. What you see here above is an example of how a KML that I created renders in Google Earth. It shows points of interest representing media outlets in China, in a yet to be released visualization project with my China Media Project colleagues. The idea is this: you have a geographic database with points of interest along with linked data. Then, in python, you fetch from the database and use libkml to output a KML file.

The main advantage that libkml provides is that it simplifies my code greatly, as I don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and that libkml is tailor-made for generating KML.

The trouble now is not so much the actual rendering or visualization part anymore. The challenge, I find, is more to finding quality data, especially of the geographical kind. But that’s going to be for another entry.